The Further Education of a Young Capitalist
Or, How I Almost Made a $250,000 "Ooopsie"
Everything I know about auctions I learned from eBay. The sum could be written in crayon on a business card: have a strategy, verify the market rate, your item is not the one in a stock photo... I was still surprised, though, to see how poorly they translate to the real thing.
Fulton Missouri, winter, 2001. It breaks my heart to see a mom and pop store go tits-up, but not when a pawn shop shutters its doors. There is something sleazy about them, something about the dust of broken dreams lying thick on their inventory. So it was in a state of conflict I went to the auction at the end of the line for a mom-and-pop pawnshop.
They had speakers and guitars, tools, an outboard motor, and a full inventory of rifles. The only thing sadder than a pawn shop in general, is a well-loved rifle in particular, abandoned at the counter. A few had grooves in the stocks dug by their ownersí wedding rings; one had two of these marks, father and son, more personal than fingerprints. Heartbreaking. For sale, cheap.
I was there.
There was one rifle I really wanted, so I put in a bid. Someone bested me by five dollars; the game was afoot. "Sixty dollars," I said. Sixty five. It had a clean bore, a dirty chamber, and a plastic stock--nothing special. "Seventy." Do I hear "seventy five!" for a fine rifle a very fine rifle do I hear eighty Eighty dollars! from a man in the back. Iíve got him now, itís a race, "ninety!" Iím gonna buy this--...-- Iím gonna win! Ninety five do I hear a hundred, hundred, hundred dollar bid "hundred!"
“The way I blink says it all...”
Iím hooked--on the auction, and by the auctioneer. I fixed the rifleís value at a hundred dollars, but to me--winning the auction, to me, was worth five dollars more. Hundred dollars do I hear one-oh-five, going once, one-hundred going do I hear "one-oh-five!" Iím in a proper frenzy now and the auctioneer stops cold. Heís old. Heís seen a lot; probably has a lot of stories. Iím nineteen, but I look younger. He stares at me. Everyone stares at me.
"First time, boy?" he says much slower.
The way I blink says it all.
"Now normally," he continues, "I would let you bid against yourself, but... You have the high bid, you know." Whoops...
Whether out of charity, pity, or price, I donít know, but no one bid again and I bought the rifle. Lesson learned. A week later I saw the same rifle, new at Wal-Mart, for ten bucks less. Another lesson learned...
I didnít go to an auction for two years, but then I found myself standing in the parking lot at a property auction for a horrible rat trap collapsing on a wonderful piece of commercial land. I was there out of curiosity alone, being old enough to buy beer but probably not that kind of property.
Bidding opened at $250,000, which I figured was low for such prime land. No auction closes on the opening figure, especially in commercial real estate, especially with so many men in suits around me and a fine highway right behind. I figured I ought to throw out the first bid, just to get my name on the record--just to participate in some small way.
A thundering voice rattled my head, deep and angry like God Himself. "No, you idiot!" it bellowed.
At twenty one, God called me an idiot. I think thereís medicine for that...but He was right.
I shoved my hands in my pockets, listened to the auctioneer lower the price, again, and again, and stood there blinking after the dayís only bid won for $90,000.
Iíve not been to an auction since--Iím no good at them, and donít need any more angry deities berating me.
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